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Monday, April 10, 2006

Immigration Advocates Rally Around U.S. - New York Times

Immigration Advocates Rally Around U.S. - New York TimesApril 10, 2006


In rallies appeared to be exceeding the expectations of organizers and the police, hundreds of thousands of immigrants and their supporters marched today in more than 100 cities throughout the country, casting off the old fears of their illegal status to assert that they have a right to a humane life in this country.

The marches took place in big cities like Houston, Los Angeles, Phoenixand Atlanta, and in smaller communities like Hyde Park, N.Y., Garden City, Kan., and Bell Glade, Fla. Some of the marchers invoked the tactics and slogans of the civil rights era, and others were trying out a new voice for an emerging costituency that in the very recent past has hidden from authority because of their lack of papers, afraid to speak up, willing to work for wages that American citizens will not accept.

In Madison, Wis., a rally drew 25,000, organizers said. The police, who estimated the crowd to be closer to 10,000, nevertheless said it was the largest rally they have seen in 10 years there.

One man, Jose Pineda, 30, who works at a doll factory in Madison and was at the rally with his wife and two young children, was asked if they were not afraid to march in a rally where they might be identified as illegal and therefore subject to capture or prosecution by authorities.

"No," Mr. Pineda said. "We are not criminals."

It has become the rallying cry of demonstrations that have grown in size and frequency in the last month, as Congress has considered the thorny issue of immigration legislation.

The rallies, part of what some organizers were calling the National Day of Action for Immigrant Justice, began this morning, with a 9 a.m. demonstration in Atlanta , and continues in more than 100 cities, ending with demonstrations in New York City and Washington.

The numbers such rallies have drawn in the past few weeks have exceeded the expectations of even their organizers, who say immigrants are no longer afraid to speak out about proposed immigration bills in Congress that some of them find unfair to them.

"I think that the incredible turnout in places like Dallas is just reflective of the deeply felt sense in this country that we have a broken immigration system that desperately needs to be fixed," said Eliza Leighton, with Casa of Maryland, an immigrant advocacy group that is one of the organizers of the Washington rally.

"It needs to be fixed in such a way that the millions of immigrants who are in this country now and are strong contributing members of our society and our economy have a clear path toward citizenship and one that unites families and keeps our country strong," she said.

In Atlanta, a sea of demonstrators, most of them dressed in the white T-shirts that have become emblematic of the immigrant rights marches, moved along a two-mile route, with marchers carrying signs about their rights and the competing bills in Congress. Most of the marchers carried American flags, as the word has gone out to demonstrators over the last few weeks over the Internet and flyers that they needed to show more willingness to assimilate, although some carried flags from their home countries of Mexico, Honduras and Nicaragua.

Before the march began, police had said they expected it to draw a crowd of 40,000. Afterward, organizers said they believed the size of the crowd might have reached 80,000.

Most of the participants had taken the day off work to attend the demonstration, leaving chores unattended that they said many people, including some who want undocumented immigrants to be kept out, take for granted. There were house painters walking on the metal stilts they use for their work; there were domestic workers who clean houses or care for children in private homes; there were construction workers and their children.

"We are in a situation that Rosa Parks was in several years ago: enough is enough," said Fabian Rodriguez, 38, who came here from Mexico and now lives in the Atlanta suburb of Norcross and works as a landscaper. "I want things to work out in our favor, or we go back to our country. But we can't keep living the way it is now." They were supporting immigrant rights nationally and protesting state legislation awaiting Gov. Sonny Perdue's signature that would require adults seeking many state-administered benefits to prove they are in the country legally.

There were many signs here that marchers were aware of the South's history as the cradle of the black civil rights movement. At the beginning of the march, demonstrators held a banner that spanned the width of their procession that read, "We have a dream too."

Someone else carried a sign that said, "I eat grits. You eat tacos," a message meant to convey how integral immigrants have become to Atlanta's culture and economy.The rallies today come a day after hundreds of thousands marched in downtown Dallas, San Diego, Miami, Birmingham, Ala., and Boise, Idaho, on Sunday.

Thousands more gathered in Salem, Ore., and other cities in peaceful, forceful displays of support.

The rallies are coming at a time when Congress — and indeed, the nation — seems torn about what to do about the burgeoning numbers of immigrants who are coming into the country every year.

A poll released today by The Washington Post and ABC television showed that 75 percent of Americans believe United States authorities are not doing enough to stop illegal immigration.

In Congress, an effort to enact the most sweeping immigration changes in two decades was derailed on Friday by feuding over amendments and other issues.

This came after a bipartisan Senate compromise last week that Democrats and Republicans hailed as a breakthrough. The Senate bill would open doors to citizenship for most illegal immigrants if they paid fines and learned English. It would also create a guest worker program for 325,000 people a year to meet the needs of business, and would tighten border security to satisfy conservatives.

But the agreement fell apart just before Congress went off on a two week break, casting its future in doubt. Senator Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican and the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, pledged in an interview on "Fox News Sunday" to have the measure ready for debate when Congress resumes.

In Atlanta, some of the demonstrators took note of Congress's failure to come to an agreement before members left on vaction.

A woman hoisted a sign that said, "Congress, go back to work."

"I feel very disappointed because they're supposed to work for the people," said Georgina Rodriguez, 33, a domestic worker from Mexico. "Instead of solving this problem of 12 million immigrants, they've gone on vacation."

In Madison, the demonstrators, who marched from Madison Park at Lake Monona to the state capitol about a mile away, were joined by the mayor, David Cieslewicz.

"I want to express support for the Madison Latino community," he said. "And I want to help send a message in opposition to the mean-spiritied immigration bills currently before Congress."

Like many of the undocumented workers who were marching in the rallies, Abel Salgado, 30, who works in a dairy farm in the Madison area, said that most of them are working hard at jobs that Americans clearly want someone to perform for them.

Mr. Salgado said he has a wife and three children in his hometown of Acapulco, Mexico.

"I am here to say that we are not criminals," Mr. Salgado said. "We are here for a better future for ourselves and for our children."

Reporting for this article was contributed by Brenda Goodman from Atlanta, Barbara Minder from Madison, Wis., andLaura Griffin from Dallas.

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